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Future Mobile Information Access: Challenges and Opportunities

Final Report Summary - FMIA (Future Mobile Information Access: Challenges and Opportunities)

Mobile phones, once deemed as simple communications devices, now provide people with the ability to access a wealth of online information, anytime and anywhere. In the past few years in particular, mobile phones have started to dominate as the primary mode of accessing the internet. This growth in popularity is due to a number of factors including: improved mobile broadband and mobile networks, the growing popularity of social networking, video services and VOIP services, as well as significant advances in mobile handset technology (1). Recently, there has been a flurry of reports showcasing this growth. For example, a 2012 report by KPCB highlights that the mobile Internet is growing faster than the desktop Internet ever did (2). A study published by Nielsen in 2010 shows that mobile Internet usage is increasing significantly, in particular among young people (3). Furthermore, according to a report by Deloitte in 2011, more than 50 % of computing devices sold globally will be smartphones, tablets and non-PC netbooks (4).

Despite this growth, the mobile internet represents a challenging information access environment due to a range of factors. Desktop-based and mobile-based information accesses are fundamentally different from each other and the unique challenges associated with mobile information access cannot be solved by merely translating desktop solutions to a mobile device as is commonly assumed.

Mobile phones are personal devices. They are always on and always with us. As such, our interactions with mobile handsets differ significantly from our interactions with desktop systems. In particular, mobile phones are characterised by limited screen real-estate and restricted input / interaction capabilities that make information access tasks challenging and cumbersome for end-users. Mobile users are also different from desktop users: they are on-the-move and are typically interested in locating different types of content. Furthermore, mobile users have information needs that are impacted by changing contexts such as location, time, social interactions and activity.

In order to build enriching, engaging mobile user experiences, we need to gain a more fundamental understand of the unique needs, intents and information access behaviours of mobile users. Unfortunately, our current understanding of the specific information needs that are intrinsic to mobile users is still limited. As such the main objective of the FMIA project is to gain a deeper understanding of the actual information needs and behaviours of mobile users and to enhance their online experience by making it easier for them to access information online via their mobile handsets.

1. Admob, 'Mobile metrics report', 2010 See: http://bit.ly/b7DYFJ
2. KBCP, 'Internet trends', 2012 See, http://www.kpcb.com/insights/2012-internet-trends-update
3. Nielsen, 'Mobile youth around the world', 2010 See, http://bit.ly/fzmCPK
4. Deloitte, 'Technology predictions 2011', 2011 See, http://bit.ly/fesYLW

Research work and results:

The main goal of the FMIA project was to increase our fundamental understanding of today's mobile users, to use the lessons learned from user studies of mobile users to outline concrete design implications for engaging or enriching future mobile information access experiences and to produce high-quality research results and subsequently publish them in top-tier scientific conferences so that we may have an impact of the scientific community.

Over the two year period, the researcher has conducted four live field studies and one mobile query log analysis study in order to advance our understanding of today's mobile users, their daily information needs and the mobile web behaviours. The researcher has also used the learning outcomes from some of these studies to design and build a proof-of-concept mobile prototype to support social, shared mobile search experiences which was evaluated in-the-wild. During this two-year period, the key results achieved are as follows:

a) The researcher devised, implemented and deployed a novel methodology for studying mobile users while on-the-move.
b) The researcher carried out a study of daily information needs that revealed new insights regarding the types of information needs that occur in people?s lives, how they address those information needs and the role that mobile technology plays on the needs that arise and the mode used to address those needs. This study not only complements earlier work in this domain, but provides new findings regarding daily information needs that end-users have difficulty in addressing with existing services.
c) The researcher's user-centric study of mobile Web and mobile search behaviours showcases new results regarding the key motivators and situations in which mobile search is used by active smartphone users.
d) The researcher's study of social mobile search behaviours highlighted that the use of mobile search in social, co-located settings to satisfying shared needs for information is increasing. This study suggested that existing mobile search services lack appropriate means of sharing web content.
e) The researcher designed, implemented and evaluated a novel proof-of-concept prototype aimed to enrich shared mobile search experiences in co-located mobile settings.
f) The researcher discovered important design implications that should help researchers in designing future social mobile systems.
g) The researcher's study of existing mobile search patterns (via query log analysis) highlights that mobile search patterns are evolving but some differences exist between android and iPhone users, thus implying that customisation or personalisation might be needed, depending on device type.
h) The research results obtained through the FMIA Marie Curie fellowship have been published at top-tier, peer-reviewed international conferences and workshops in fields related to the World Wide Web, HCI, mobile computing and information retrieval.

Final results and potential impact:

The overall research in FMIA has the potential to advance the state-of-the-art in the following ways:

a) The researcher has provided new insights on mobile users, their needs, intents, contexts and information access behaviours. This research should be of interest and relevant to other telecommunications providers, major search engine providers, and researchers working in the mobile space.
b) The researcher has proposed several design implications that should help in the designing of future mobile search services. This should be of interest to mobile designers, mobile developers and mobile innovators.

The researcher has presented a novel approach to conducting user studies in the wild that could help fellow researchers in understanding mobile users in the wild. She is currently working on a modular implementation of this method that will be used in-house to conduct further experiments. She also hopes to write a method paper to show students how to conduct such research.